It’s important to me that I spend my time wisely. There’s an endless amount of content out there but to choose the right content to pursue can be difficult. Countless MOBAs, Battle Royales, Open-Worlds, Metroidvanias, RTSes, RPGs and dozens more flood the market trying to offer new things to their respective muddied genre trying to rise above the pack. With so many options it’s almost frustrating to figure out where my time should go.
That’s why it’s important that I find games that try to go in the opposite direction; against the grain. Games that try to do their own thing typically stand upon their own merits rather than depend on similar games to bolster their success. Moreover, to find a title that truly resonates takes some effort on the game’s part but when it does, it sure does resonate.
You can imagine my luck when something like Eastshade came along, and at just the right moment. Here’s a game that does away with much of what you’d expect from a traditional RPG adventure, removing nearly all the stress and fear of dying, replacing them with mystery, intrigue, and serenity. This is what happens when the fantasy genre puts down its sword and shield and decides to pick up a paintbrush.
I’m going to be honest right out the gate and say that some might have an inclination to label this as a Walking Simulator in the vein of a Gone Home or Tacoma, since you’re honestly doing just that: walking. When I first started to explore the world, I felt that same feeling. But after a few hours making my way around I realized I could be experiencing the next evolutionary step up from a walking simulator. Eastshade is exactly what that niche genre needs in order to gain momentum into something beautiful.
Our adventure opens on a boat. You’re a painter traveling to Eastshade to visit the sites your late mother wanted you to visit. Unfortunately for you and everyone else onboard, the ship you’re traveling on starts to fill up with water and crashes just outside a town called Lyndow. From here, the game starts to introduce story threads, mysteries and beauty in an intimately dense fantasy world filled with various animal-face human-bodied characters.
One thing that immediately comes to mind when you first find yourself on the fateful ship and the music starts to pick up: Elder Scrolls. The entire game presents itself as a Skyrim or Morrowind mod. This might sound reductive and a slight to the game, but I promise it’s not. There were plenty of side quests in those Elder Scrolls games that felt so unique and special and Eastshade feels like an extension of those. The gentle forest nymph music playing in every inch of the game, the branching dialogue options, the eclectic and colorful characters, the tone. Everything they do is reminiscent of all the best qualities that the Elder Scrolls games (or any good, well written RPG for that matter) have to offer.
But while a large chunk of the journey focuses on fetch quests, they never quite feel as mundane or as grindy as other games. Why? It could be the writing since it always feels vibrant and steeped in the lore. Perhaps it’s the fact that there’s never large epic battles between you and a castle-sized dragon to truncate the impact of the smaller fetch quests in the game. Whatever the cause, these stories always felt fulfilling and will always help paint a broader picture of what the characters and world are.
Speaking of painting broader pictures, the art of painting is Eastshade’s main draw (pause for applause for that grade A segue). Alongside tasks that help flesh out the world, there’s also the ability to paint whatever and whenever you’d like. Assuming you have the proper materials to craft canvases, you’re able to stop anywhere on the map, pull out a canvas and paint what you see. You’re able to choose the width and height of the canvas and where and what you want, hit E and watch it magically appear before your eyes. You do run short on supplies quick so early on you’ll want to make sure your painting things of importance, but eventually you’ll be able to get more canvases by painting and selling commissioned works of art.
You’ll be tasked to help people take pictures to help immortalize a favorite landmark or concept, you’ll help people spruce up their houses with your paintings and you’ll help make the world a more beautiful looking place in the process.
The island of Eastshade is split into different sections. The way to progress is by going through the story in a semi-linear fashion and yet I hit a point where that quickly shifted. I was incredibly surprised to find that I had around a dozen side quests open at one time and they all felt different, yet all still partially connected in some manner, allowing me freedom to figure out what came next. It’s a sensation That’s hard to put into words, but it felt oh so very fresh.
Not only do you see a wide variety of depth with its quests, but there’s also a wide swath of mysteries around the island you’re free to delve into. Some are puzzles, some are just bizarre tableaus that you need to decrypt. But overall each of them felt organically placed. I also found that I kept getting the same wonderful sense of discovery every time a new item popped up. Initially you feel like the game is going to be incredibly straight forward, but it blossoms into something far more by adding crafting and ziplines and other things that I’d rather not spoil for you here. I just kept getting surprised.
On that same note, there are plenty of small bugs that are scattered throughout Eastshade with weird clipping on both player and AI being the main bits, with a few instances of broken AI pathfinding that had me leaving the area before the game ‘fixed’ itself. It’s also a letdown that NPCs walking about have no dialogue options. In normal games, this happens all the time. But here, the setting is so unique that I wanted to know everyone in town. This is especially noticeable as they do a wonderful job of setting up small tableaus for the characters to occupy.
Graphically, the game looks stunning in most vistas, though there’s plenty of broken or flat textures in spots and the character models can often appear jarring with their mouths flapping about. But what the game does offer in ways of forest and glorious vistas is stunning, which is something you’d expect from a game that’s all about its aesthetic and the preservation of it.
That said, as with the bias against walking simulators, I can see a strong case being made from people who don’t necessarily care for the game’s look and choose not to play it. It’s not bleeding-edge and it won’t tax your videocard, but for vistas and concepts, it’s by far one of the most striking games I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s pure fantasy but it feels so real despite its many graphical shortcomings.
Eastshade isn’t perfect, of course, but it has a mystical gumption that pushes it toward something I’ve never quite experienced before. Those who love games want to seek out new things, to reward those brave enough to give us something that challenges us in a different way. We fundamentally wish to see those chances succeed because they attempt to give us something that forgo the conventions of fantasy and rediscover our sense of adventure. If you’re someone that can’t stand those walking simulators because they’re “boring”, Eastshade has the right balance of discovery and dialogue mixed with the trappings that make normal RPGs so compelling. Just with less fighting – and more painting!